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How Do You Know When it’s Time to Leave a Job?

Recently it had become time to leave a job at a company I had worked at for many years. It wasn’t a difficult decision either – the overall culture of the workplace had shifted dramatically in recent years, and unfortunately, in my humble opinion, not for the better. What had been novel and exciting in the beginning had come to feel more like drudgery and discouragement in the end.

How Do You Know When it’s Time to Leave a Job?
How Do You Know When it’s Time to Leave a Job?
Should I have left sooner? Possibly – if I had known what signs to look for. One thing that many of us (hopefully!) improve at as we get older is learning to “look for the signs” and spot trends as they’re happening. Unfortunately, there are other times when we’re so immersed in an environment (work or otherwise) that it’s hard to see what’ss happening in front of our very eyes. Or if we do see it, we try to come up with some story to explain it away.

Recognizing the Signs

One reason I didn’t leave the company for so long was that I was neither happy nor miserable. How does that work? People who are happy in their employment, who feel valued for what they do and who believe their efforts are being recognized, as well as growing and expanding their skill sets, have no need to change course.

Conversely, people who are miserable in their jobs will seek to get out of an awful situation as soon as possible.

Interestingly, and somewhat ironically, it’s the people who are in between those two ends of the “job satisfaction” spectrum who are the most likely to fall into a trap. They’re not happy enough in their jobs to feel good about where they are, but they’re not unhappy enough to take action to correct or alter their situation.

It’s during these times that we become more likely to “coast” and “shift into autopilot”. We don’t feel that acute sense of urgency that maybe something in our lives need to change.

How do we know when it’s time leave a job? First, let’s consider the ways the company you’re working for may be in trouble. Along with personal insights, other authors around the web have pointed out a number of factors that might be indicative that the organization you’re working for might be in for a very rough ride, if it isn’t already in one now.

Management Stops Talking, or Even Disappears Behind Closed Doors

I can’t emphasize this enough: good managers communicate regularly and honestly with their employees. It’s amazing how often this doesn’t seem to happen.

At my old company, leadership would often go for long stretches without telling employees what was happening within the organization. This opened the field up to all kinds of gossip, rumors, and speculations about what was really going on. Whether rumors are true or not, they can cause major damage to the morale of a workplace. It may also be indicative that the leadership doesn’t WANT their employees to know of the difficulties going on behind the scenes.

When it’s Time to Leave a Job: Managers Become Micro-managers

I’ll be honest – if I had a chance to work in an environment outside the typical 9-5 work hours, I would usually take it. I would regularly joke to my fellow employees that I enjoyed working “after-hours,” since that’s when all the company higher-ups would go home and stop mucking around in other people’s business, and the rest of us could actually get some work done!

That’s not always the case, but if you have a boss who wants you to exhaustively document every single little thing you do, or expects you to be available 24/7, even on days off and vacations, think carefully about how much of your life you want to sign away to your superiors.

Employee Favoritism is Rampant

Ever feel like some of your co-workers could get away with murder if they tried?

We all want to believe that we’re held to the same standards as our peers – after all, that’s what “being fair” is all about, isn’t it? Yet, many times, that is not the case. There are many workplaces where certain employees are allowed to come in late repeatedly, leave early, call off regularly from work, spend most of their workday doing things other than work, find creative ways of dodging responsibilities, and getting special privileges over others who are more deserving of merit.

Meanwhile, other employees are expected to pick up the slack, stay late when needed, put in extra-long grueling hours, receive little recognition for their efforts, and are subject to frequent criticism while they try to do their best to hold things together.

This is definitely not a recipe for a healthy work environment. It almost always leads to high levels of anger and resentment. As another article I read put it, when employees in a company spend a lot of time talking about “us” vs. “them” – and they are NOT referring to their competitors – you might want to think about brushing up your resume.

Hiring/Pay Freezes

This may or may not be cause for alarm, depending on the situation. Back during the financial crisis of 2008-2010, it was pretty uncommon to find organizations that WEREN’T going through a hiring or pay freeze. But if you’re working in a place where these things are starting to become an annual ritual, you may want to sit up and take notice.

There’s a good chance your company is going through major budgetary issues and is having difficulty meeting payroll expenses. Since payroll is usually the biggest expense for a company, it’s the most likely target for cuts.

Less and Less Work is Coming Your Way

At my old workplace, we used to joke that it was “either feast or famine.” We would have occasional “dry spells” where there was little work, but most of the time the harvests were plenty – plenty of work for everyone and opportunities for overtime. As the years wore on, however, the feasts became fewer and famine became the new state of normal.

If your employer finds out they can get along just fine without your input and effort, you should consider finding an escape route as soon as possible, lest you’re the one to be next on the chopping block.

Even if your company is not in trouble, there may be more personal signs that it may be time for you to move on, and soon:

You Go into Monday Morning Feeling Bored, or Even Worse – Feeling Dread

If you’re heading into work with a knot in your stomach, ask yourself if the toll it is taking on your mental and possible physical health is really worth it. Remember, life is too short to be spending so much of it with people and environments that make you miserable!

Your Company No Longer Believes in You or Invests in You

Good organizations recognize the talents, strengths, and potentials of their workers. If you don’t feel like you’re growing with the organization you’re currently with, why not find someone else who will invest in you?

I’ve heard it said that if you’re with a company for more than five years and there’s been no change in your roles or job duties, you’re probably in a dead-end job. Another option to consider — as Kevin and others here at OOYR have noted — why not also consider the option of becoming self-employed and invest in yourself instead?

Your Values, Mission, and Priorities Don’t Mesh Well with the Employer

Few things will create resentment in you faster than if you see your employer going in a direction that is totally at odds with what you value and believe. If you’re more focused on providing good service and quality while your employer emphasizes “the bottom line” – even if it means cutting back on service and quality – consider the possibility that you and your employer are moving in opposite directions and you’re not likely to retain compatibility with each other for long.

You Don’t Feel Like What You’re Doing is Making Any Difference

How many of you can recognize the symptoms of “burnout” in someone? We all want to feel that we’re making a positive impact on our world. If your current work situation feels akin to “going through the motions,” don’t you think you owe it to yourself to find something (or things) that you really care about?

Wouldn’t you rather focus on your personal legacy than just focusing on getting through the day? It’s probably asking too much for us to be overflowing with excitement every work day, but we should aspire to “take the long view” in our work and realize that we should we doing something meaningful with our lives.

What about you, dear readers? What other situations made you realize it was time to go? Share your stories with us!

( Photo by JenReeves )

12 Responses to How Do You Know When it’s Time to Leave a Job?

  1. Stephen,

    You touched on many good points. Hopefully more people are awakening to these warning signs.

    I recall similar situations in my past.

    The turning point for me, I had always felt the company controlled my destiny/success. If I worked hard and was productive they would recognize my results. You are nothing more than a piece of meat on a hook. You become twice as productive, but your income does not. Often favoritism was the driving ingredient for advancement, or worse yet time on the job….not performance.

    This kind of working atmosphere can be debilitating, as you said…just going through the motions.

    The mind shift, that I was in control not them…was liberating. Yes, it amped up the fear/uncertainty meter, but from that time forward you feel empowered that the future is in your hands. It is OK to change employers or better yet, choose yourself, as J. Altucher calls it. Go out on your own…Life is too short to not do it.

  2. Hi Judge – My experience in the job world was very similar – in fact, almost identical. I was usually one of the “go-to” people where ever I was, and found that all it ever got me was more work and less recognition. I came to the conclusion that while bureaucracies need productive people they often feel threatened by them. For that reason management pushes you down on the organizational chart, I suspect so that you can’t threaten their jobs with your competence. Meanwhile you’re stressed out because you’re carrying the load for others from whom less is expected (consistent with the details that you’ve provided).

    Here’s the best example in my work history…This is going to sound sexist, but it’s actually an example of reverse-sexism. I was one of two men in the mortgage underwriting dept of a large bank. There were 11 women and then there was me and Bob. Guess who got called on to do anything messy? Me and Bob, of course. One of the loan officers even referred to us as “St. Bob and St. Kevin”. Most of the staff – including most of the female staff – always wanted us to underwrite their files.

    This bank was intent on promoting women and minorities. A couple of years earlier they had been hit with a massive lawsuit for redline lending in minority neighborhoods, and they were doing penance. Of course, none of that stopped them from designating me as the underwriter for the primary urban/minority branch office – none of the women wanted it, and they were sure I could handle it.

    This is just one example of when the going got tough they dumped everything challenging on me and Bob. The dept manager and assistant manager were both women, as were everyone else up the chain of command. Bob should have been the dept manager and everyone knew it. But after nearly 7 years as an underling (doing the manager’s job for her) Bob got recruited by a competitor, who hired him as the department manager. Go Bob, you deserved it!

    Meanwhile, I was the lowest paid person in the dept. After 2.5 years I left to begin my life as a contractor at double the pay. That bank ended up closing down their mortgage dept across the country. Shortly after contracting, I went on to become an independent salesman, and eventually on to self-employment.

    It all ended well for both me and Bob. The take-away is that if you’re in this position, it’s often precisely because you’re good at what you do. That’s why they dump on you. They need go-to people to carry their various initiatives. But they need you more than you need them. The proof is when you discover that you can not only survive without the dumping employer, but you can thrive. So it is with anyone who’s good at what they do.

    Good people don’t need organizations nearly as much as we’re trained to believe. Get your confidence out of mothballs and then get out there and start making things happen. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

  3. In my last job, I found I was doing the same things over and over. It had become boring and rote. So I had to find something new that would provide for more intellectual stimulation.

  4. Hi Barnaby – Unfortunately that describes a lot of jobs. White collar work has become lick an assembly line, where you do your one job, then pass the job down the line to the next function. That’s also how employees become replaceable – the job is so simple anyone can do it, so there’s less job security than ever.

  5. I’ve quit 2 times up until now.

    First time I quit was many years ago, I was working outside the 9 to 5 schedule, which was kinda nice at first, but later I felt my employer was taking advantage of me being always available. I was one of the few foreigners working there and was afraid of putting my foot down. It was probably a mistake, but I was too afraid of confrontation (yep, being young and afraid leads to stupid decisions 😀 )

    Second time was when I realized my employer literally didn’t give a damn about his employers.

    I worked 14 hour shifts at times (yup, 14, that really happened) and was expected to rinse and repeat 5 times a week. The responsibilities they gave me didn’t help either, since the salary didn’t exactly match the pile of chores that kept on magically appear on my desk.

    So, when my employer started telling everyone – now this is the interesting part – “if you can’t handle it, you know where the door is”, many of us realized it was time to look for something else 😀

    Quitting isn’t fun, but it’s sometimes necessary. In some cases, peace of mind is way more important than anything else.

  6. Hi Adriana – I’m older than you and have quit a few more jobs! But what I do know is that there isn’t one job that I quit that I regretted quitting. The sad reality is that there are a lot of bad jobs out there, maybe even more than good ones. They’re not worth spending your valuable and limited life time working at and stressing over. In fact, you can generally tell when a job is bad by the fact that you feel really bad about it, but the employer makes you feel like it’s all your fault. I’ve found that to be a telltale sign that it’s time to move on. But being something of a restless soul, I’m not necessarily the best example to follow either 😉

    In the end, I now realize that I was destined to be self-employed, and no regular job was every going to cut it. Which isn’t to say that there weren’t jobs that I was happy with, at least for a time. So maybe the best rule of thumb is to stay on a job until you don’t like it any more, then move on.

  7. Hi Kevin. Been there, done that…as many others have, including yourself. But on the flip side, I was at a job for twenty years that I loved and felt respected and valued. It was a lot of hard work, but it was a good job with full benefits, and I was doing well. But instead of “seeing” what I had, I listened to so many others who talked about how great their job was, how much money they were making, how good their bosses were, etc. So, I left my good job for what I thought was greener pastures. The next ten years was spent job hopping, leaving one awful job after the next. After I got “out there” so to speak, I learned that these same “friends” liked to bs a lot about how great their lives and work were, only to have it not be true. I was foolish and gullible, but I did learn a lesson, the very hard way. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. And don’t believe everything you’re told. When I left that old job, they had a very nice catered reception for me, gave me a gift, and wished me well in my new work. I’ve never found another job since that was a good as that one. Lesson learned….and new friends made.

  8. Hi Bev – THAT was a lesson! I always assumed that if you’re on a job for 20 years that you retire there. Quite honestly I’ve never been on a job like that. Since I worked in the mortgage business, companies were always getting taken over, so even if it was good at the beginning it would go downhill fast. (It’s never good to be part of the company being taken over, you’re automatically a second class citizen no matter how much the new masters tell you otherwise.) I suspect that if I had a good job like that I’d never have become a blogger.

    Your experience after leaving the good job confirms that most employers – maybe like 80% – are lousy places to work. Very few are the kinds of places where you can build a life and a career. I think you honestly thought you were moving onto better things, and you owed it to yourself to try. But then life took over when you were out on the journey, and now, like me, you’re self-employed. I think that’s where it ends for restless souls. Only self-employment will do. I spent eight years at a mortgage company where I was basically a self-employed contract worker (in the truest sense) and that’s why I lasted that long. At one accounting gig I was at for six years, I was also contracting. I’m better with informal situations.

    But I think you’re main point is listening to other people. Yes, very dangerous. Even if they are in a better place, there’s no guarantee that that will be your fate at the same company. There’s a lot of that “look at my exciting life” on the web these days. Everyone is selling “My idyllic life”, hoping to sell others on the idea for literal money. I’m actually making money on the web, and I will tell you straight up that while it’s way better than a traditional job, it comes with it’s own set of problems (that’s the part you don’t hear from the hypsters).

    At the end of the day, if you’re happy with where you’re at, you should stay put – it’s probably your “zone”. But in America at least, we don’t like to stay put, and often commit financial suicide in the process. That’s a big reason why you’ll often here me advocate part-time work and side businesses. It’s always best to test the water before taking a plunge. It also does a better job of protecting your cash flow and bank account.

  9. Kevin, Bev, Judge, Adriana, Barnaby —

    Thank you so much to all of you for all your keen insights and wisdom. It’s always good to hear from others who have already trod the same path you have!

  10. Isn’t it interesting Steve, that we all go through the same experiences, but because we don’t share those stories we always think we’re going through it alone, and maybe we’re just weird. Nope, we’re all just normal, and this is life! (Not always perfect.)

  11. Excellent post. Kevin, agree with you. I felt a little bit like a failure for quitting a job I hated after being there a year. Never mind that my third week on the job I wanted to quit because I got dumped on when the person I “backed-up” went on vacation and I had to do her job and mine at the same time. Plus she was one of the favorites and I did her job even when she was there! The owner was openly racist and a micro manager. I had to ask if it was okay to go to the bathroom and there was a laminated sign on the bathroom door instructing us to wait until the toilet stopped running before leaving. The accounting department had an almost total turn-over of people in the 12 months (plus one week!) I was there. After I left there was a turn-over of 3 people in my position within a year. I made sure I had almost a year’s salary saved up (which was fortunately/unfortunately not that much!) when I walked out. I gave no notice and do not feel any guilt or regret over that. I now have a job (which I landed less than a year later) which is closer to home, doing work I enjoy, with good people, earning more money! For all the headaches I went through (I have only mentioned a few) I am even more blessed now.

  12. Hi Suzie – I’m glad you got out of there. It’s not our imaginations, there are companies out there that are certified toilet bowls, and there are more than a few of them, unfortunately. When you’re in one of them, you start to doubt yourself. It can even shake your confidence. That’s why you can never stay too long. I’ve also found that if a job proves to be lousy in the first couple of weeks, it only gets worse from there.

    Don’t feel guilty about leaving. They were a wreck before you got there, a wreck while you were there, and they’ll continue to be so until they finally shut the doors. As a friend of mine once said, most businesses succeed in spite of themselves. Recognizing that reality, they can cordially do so without our participation.

    Oh, also, the post was written by Steve, not me. But I fully endorse all that he wrote.

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